Updated: Feb 15, 2020
Matsya = Fish
Āsana = Posture, or comfortable seat
Fish pose is a deep chest opener. It can help stretch the muscles in the neck like the sternocleidomastoid, scalenes and levator scapula and all of the fascia through out the interconnected web of the neck, chest and upper arm. Fish pose can counteract medial rounded shoulders which is when the shoulders are rolling in towards the chest. Medial rounded shoulders are usually linked to shortened anterior deltoid and pictorial muscles. The superficial front line of fascia is lengthened and the superficial back line is also engaged. Fish is strengthening to the neck and chest while relieving tightness and tension in the back body in the shoulders and neck. Fish pose can help decrease kyphosis, rounding of the back (granny back). When performed well, fish pose helps to create space in the chest impacting the heart and lungs, increasing blood flow and function to this area that is often constricted by gravity and modern living. Traditional Yogis claim it increases flow of energy to the parathyroid, thyroid and pineal helping to keep them healthy and balanced.
How to Practice Fish Pose
Option 1: For beginners and the less mobile
come seated with legs extended out straight, slide the palms facing down under the bottom (1.a).
Slowly recline down resting the forearms on the floor (2.a). Shoulder blades pinch together elbows stay under the body, face is looking forward. If one is working with neck pain keeping the face looking forward is a stable place to hold the posture (2.a). This variation brings opening the chest without straining the neck. From there we can slowly recline the top of the head to the mat in half fish pose (above). Continue holding the posture with long deep breath for 1- 3 minutes. Slowly lower onto the back releasing the arms
Option 2: For intermediate and limber students
Lay on the back, push the arms straight under the bottom with no bend in the elbow (3). Inhale, pushing the forearms into the floor and pinching the shoulders blades together. Allow the top/back of the head to rest on the floor as we deeply open the chest entering into the full pose.
Hold for 1-3 minutes using moola bhanda and kitcheri mudra. Work consciously with the breath. Open your heart center to the sky. When you are ready relax, slowly coming down onto the back, release the arms and let go completely.
Students with high or low blood pressure should consult with their doctor before practicing this posture. Fish pose is contraindicated for practitioners with blood clots close to the brain or anyone who has had a stroke. Migraine and insomnia can be increased by the practice of fish pose. Fish pose should be avoided if there is current cervical or lumbar pain/issue. Once these problems have subsided the practice of fish pose can be very beneficial for some of us with a history of cervical and lumbar troubles. In some case, general neck pain can be relived from the practice of fish pose. Specific diagnosis or assessment is useful before experimenting with self healing of neck pain in fish pose.
Matsyāsana (fish pose) and sarvāngāsana (shoulder stand) are a well-coupled counter and preparatory pose to each other (see shoulder stand for more information). In classical yoga we find these two poses partnered. In the finishing poses of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Series we find these postures close together again. Depending on the flow you can do one before the other or even cycle back and forth between the two multiple times adding other poses like halāsana (plough pose). Reclined side twist, constructive rest pose and pavanmuktasana all blend nicely to stretch the back before and after fish pose.
In supported fish, we can bring variety by adding Supta Baddha Konasana (reclined butterfly). If we use fish pose early in our practice, like done in many classical forms of Hatha Yoga we can follow fish with forward folds (flexion) like butterfly, seated forward fold and its variations. Cooling down with butterfly into fish brings a pleasant fullness and openness to the practice.
Supported fish can be used at the end of a sequence, in a yin class or as a stand alone pose. After a busy day, taking a break between computer sessions and for general opening of the front body nothing beats supported fish.